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Predict strawberry yield:

UK: £12.5m for robotics and automation to boost sustainable farming

Nineteen innovative projects developing automation and robotic technologies will receive a share of £12.5 million in government funding to boost productivity, food security, and sustainable farming practices, the Farming Minister Mark Spencer has announced on 28 September. This brings the total government funding announced to fund industry-led research and development in agriculture and horticulture to £120 million since 2021.

The projects - funded through the Farming Futures Automation and Robotics competition - including developing a system to accurately predict and enhance the quality of strawberry yields, reduce waste, and optimize labor and harvesting schedules; a new system to digitally map and monitor vineyards using drones, robots, and sensors; and a navigation system for field-based robotic vehicles to improve accuracy and reliability and enable safe navigation in farmyard and field operations.

The funding comes through the Farming Futures Automation and Robotics competition, which is part of Defra’s £270 million Farming Innovation Programme (FIP) and is delivered by Innovate UK. The FIP has funded 17 competitions since opening in October 2021, which has already seen the development of new approaches to help farms be more sustainable and productive, from new ways to reduce or eliminate pesticide use through to projects to reduce emissions from livestock, and will help meet our commitment at the Farm to Fork Summit in Downing Street in May to continue to produce at least 60% of the food we eat here in the UK.

Speaking at the World Agri-Tech Summit in London, Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: "Farmers are always forward-looking, and innovation is key to driving a resilient, productive, and sustainable agriculture sector that puts food on our tables."

"The government stands firmly behind agri-tech innovation as the cornerstone of modern farming practices. By providing opportunities, funding, and a supportive ecosystem within the sector, we aim to empower farmers, drive innovation, and create a sustainable and prosperous future for agriculture across the UK. Since 2021, the government has announced over £120 million to fund industry-led research and development in agriculture and horticulture, and the Farming Minister Mark Spencer reiterated this commitment to oversee the transformation of the UK into a world-leading agri-tech hub at the World Agri-tech Innovation Summit this week."

At the summit, the Farming Minister outlined the range of competitions under the Farming Innovation Programme that are supporting the sector to invest in new technology that will help grow their businesses, boost productivity, and benefit the environment.

This includes £10 million currently on offer through the third round of the Small R&D Partnerships competition to help businesses develop a new farming product and service and take it to commercialization on the open market and a further £4.5 million through the Feasibility Studies Competition to support businesses and researchers through the testing phase of an idea that will improve the productivity, sustainability, and resilience of farming.

In addition, the Farming Investment Fund is investing in equipment, technology, and infrastructure, and the recently launched Investor Partnership competition combines government grant funding with private investment to help smaller agri-tech businesses to grow and scale.

Dr. Katrina Hayter, Challenge Director - Transforming Food Production Challenge at Innovate UK, said robotics and automation are crucial drivers in addressing the challenges posed by a growing global population and the need for sustainable practices in various sectors, including agriculture. "By fostering innovation and research, we empower our farmers, growers, foresters, and businesses to not only enhance productivity and economic growth but also to lead the way in sustainable practices. These projects are a testament to our commitment to improving environmental outcomes and reducing carbon emissions, ensuring a brighter and more sustainable future for our agricultural and horticultural communities."

Building on commitments at the Farm to Fork Summit at Downing Street earlier this year, the Farming Minister also pointed to opportunities such as the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act to unlock technologies to improve the productivity and resilience of crops and support for farmers to attract investment and generate revenue through access to nature markets.

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